• Entertainment

Rumer Willis Is Determined to Win the Mirror Ball on Dancing with the Stars

4 minute read

Rumer Willis had her doubts about being on Dancing with the Stars, but things have certainly changed. The show’s 20th season kicks off Monday on ABC at 8/7c, and the 26-year old daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore is joining a cast that includes Patti LaBelle; LMFAO’s Redfoo; Michael Sam; actress Suzanne Somers; and Willow Shields, best known as Primrose Everdeen from The Hunger Games movies.

“When [the producers] asked me a few years ago, I didn’t think it was something I would even be capable of,” Willis said in an interview with TIME. “But I’ve been doing a show called For the Record and I’ve been dancing a little bit more, so when they asked me this year, I thought, ‘What an incredible opportunity to learn how to dance properly from a great teacher.’”

Her new teacher and partner is Val Chmerkovskiy who will show Willis the ropes of the foxtrot, pasodobles, salsa and more during the show’s 20th season. He’s also exactly who Willis hoped to be partnered with when she signed up for the show. “I think he’s one of the strongest competitors and the best teacher, so I couldn’t be happier,” she says. While Chmerkovskiy has been a fixture on the show for the last seven seasons, he has never won the show’s coveted Mirror Ball trophy. He has come close several times, though, including last season where he reached the finals with his partner actress Janel Parrish, best known for Pretty Little Liars. Willis thinks this year is his year, though. “I think we can do it.“I think we have it in the bag if we work hard and put as much passion as we have into our dances, we’ll be fine,” Willis says.

Before she can figure out where to put that trophy in her house (she plans to move it from room to room), she has round after round of competition to get through. That means spending hours in the rehearsal studio with Chmerkovskiy, who has a reputation for pushing his partners to their breaking point. Willis thinks that reputation is a bit undeserved, though. “So far, he’s been an incredible teacher and so patient. I think sometimes that the passion that he has for dance and making his partner great can be taken as harshness, when it’s really just dedication,” she says. “To be honest, I put more pressure on myself than Val could ever put on me.”

Rumors tend to follow Chmerkovskiy off the dance floor, too, where his on-screen chemistry with his partners leads to rumors of off-screen romance. Despite the fact that the show hasn’t even started yet, Willis has already run into this during press conferences. “I feel like people give him a bad rap,” she says. “People misconstrue someone having dedication and an emotional bond with their partner for something else. I didn’t sign up to be on Dating with the Stars. If I wanted to find a boyfriend I would do that on my own time.”

Chmerkovskiy recently put to rest rumors that he wooed his partners as a ploy for votes. “The last thing I would do for votes, ladies and gentlemen, is play with my partner’s emotions, or with your emotions,” he said during a Q & A session. “The votes are important to me …the performance is more important.”

While Willis is confident that she and Chmerkovskiy can bring home the trophy, she won’t be able to do it without votes from fans. To help rally the troops, her famous parents will be on hand to support her from the audience. “Everyone has been really supportive,” says Willis, “and I can’t wait to get on the dance floor.”

Dancing with the Stars airs on ABC tonight at 8/7c.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com